One of the most surprising party switches in recent years was the decision of Andrea Kotarac, in 2019, to move from La France Insoumise, the far-left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. To be sure, his move seemed to support the centrist narrative that the extremes are not that far apart, an assumption that especially enrages the Far Left. But it also reveals an interesting similarity between LFI and the RN on the matter of Ukraine, and especially of the Crimean peninsula, some five years after Russia seized the peninsula, and three years before Russia invaded.
Andréa Kotarac, born in 1989 to a Serbian father and an Iranian mother, grew up in Haute Savoie in southern France, an area bordering both Switzerland and Italy. He studied law and had been an activist for most of his adult life, starting in the Socialist Party, then moving to the Parti de gauche of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, then to Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, founded in 2016. He was up-and-coming within the party; he was on Mélenchon’s list for the regional elections of December 2015, for Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. He had won, becoming a member of the regional council. In 2017 he ran for the National Assembly on behalf of LFI for the Rhône department, and did relatively well, coning in third after the candidate of Les Républicains and the La République en Marche winner, from Macron’s new party’s sweep of the elections.
The elections for the European Parliament, in 2019, marked Kotarac’s open break with LFI. In May he announced on BFMTV that he was going to support the National Rally list led by Jordan Bardella for the European Parliament, rather than the LFI list led by Manon Aubry. He also announced that he was leaving his party and resigning his position in the regional assembly. He had been led to this by the collection of issues surrounding immigration, Islam, and the protection of French culture. In his appearance on television, Kotarac stated that the decisive moment for him had been his attendance at the Yalta Conference in Crimea, where he had been invited by Vladimir Putin to the 5th Russian economic summit in May, 2019.
The Yalta summits began in 2015, after Putin had seized Crimea from Ukraine in late 2014, an act that had brought a round of international economic sanctions against Russia. Yalta had another meaning for Putin, as well, in reference to the Yalta meeting in February, 1945, among Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, to shape the postwar world. Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal, former FN deputy for Vaucluse, was exuberant: “in 1945, at the Yalta conference, France was not there. Today, it is!”–Along with a number of Far Right and Identitaire parties from throughout Europe.
Putin has long made clear his ambitions for a “New Yalta,” a reshaping of collective security and new spheres of influence, to reflect Russia’s (or Putin’s) ambitions. Nicolas Ruisseau of Le Monde summed up Putin’s vision, as of 2019: a “multipolar world”; “Christian values”; and homophobia, (of special concern to France because of the same-sex marriage law of 2013. That was in 2019; the French have since moved along, with the American Far Right, to wokeness, transphobia, and drag queens.) There was one key element of Putin’s strategy, as Ruisseau noted: a laser-like focus from the pro-Russian media on migrants from the Southern Hemisphere, a storyline nourished by Russia Today (RT) France and RT America, both of them (and many others throughout the world) funded by the Russian Government. RT was shut down, in both France and the United States, in early March 2022; Fox News in the United States remains on the air.
Kotarac, who was quoted prominently in the Le Monde article, stated that he was in disagreement with Maréchal and [Thierry] Mariani (RN eurodeputy) on many subjects, but agreed with them on two things: national sovereignty (to be interpreted as an anti-EU remark); and the need to ally with Russia. He attempted to refine the bluntness of those remarks in a subsequent interview with L’Obs, in which he reaffirmed his beliefs as a souverainiste, and noted that “Our [LFI] program evokes an altermondialiste alliance with BRICS to escape from the logic of the International Monetary Fund. I remind certain leftists that the R of BRICS does not stand for Rungis but for Russia.” (BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.) Mélenchon had often invoked these five nations as an alternative to the Atlantic alliance, reminiscent of the non-aligned nations position of the late 20th century.)
Le Monde had also described Kotarac as a foreign policy expert who had much influence over Jean-Luc Mélenchon. That characterization called for a response. Arnaud Le Gall, who had drafted the LFI position on foreign policy, stated that the party was “not at all” in agreement with Maréchal. The Front National, stated Le Gall, giving the party its old name, believed in national sovereignty, while LFI believed in “popular sovereignty,” a reference to their call for a “Sixth Republic,” with power shifted away from the President and toward the elected Assembly, as well as an extensive use of citizens’ referenda to decide major issues. In regard to Russia, Le Gall said, “We [the LFI] have never spoken of an alliance with Russia but of cooperation. Words have meaning. For us [LFI], Russia is neither an enemy nor an ally, but a potential partner.” Le Gall went further in an interview with Sputnik News, in which he stated that he wished for a France “neither pro-Russia, nor pro-American, [but] simply independent and which manages its interests on the European continent in partnership with Russia.”.
The Yalta Conference was not the first time Kotarac had embarrassed his party. In May 2018, Kotarac (again surprising the LFI leadership) had gone to Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine led by pro-Russian separatists, who called it the Peoples’ Republic of Donetsk. He had met president Alexandre Zakharchenco, killed in August in an explosion in Donetsk. At that time, speaking on RT France–and speaking as a regional councilor of LFI–Kotarac expressed concern that this act, which Russia blamed on Ukraine, had killed a leader “loved by the people,” an act which would surely escalate the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Suggesting that “a not insignificant line had been crossed,” he noted that Zakharchenko was one of the signatories of the Minsk accords in 2015–accords, he suggested, that had not been respected. He had added, finally, that Jean-Luc Mélenchon had frequently “sounded the alarm” on the Ukrainian question.
To Be Continued.
 Laurent Bernard, “Régionales 2021: qui est Andréa Kotarac, ex-insoumis, qui conduit la liste RN en Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes?”, La Montagne, June 5, 2021.
 Rémy Dodet, “La présence d’un élu dans un forum pro-Poutine embarrasse La France insoumise,” L’Obs, May 4, 2019. https://www.nouvelobs.com/politique/20190504.OBS12462/la-presence-d-un-elu-insoumis-dans-un-forum-pro-poutine-embarasse-la-france-insoumise.html. See also part of Kotarac’s discussion on BFMTV, https://youtu.be/FqJ9XjVkcPw). Jordan Bardella was elected in late 2022 as head of the National Rally, while Marine Le Pen leads the large parliamentary delegation in the National Assembly.
 Nicolas Ruisseau, “A Yalta, en Crimée, la Russie réunit ses soutiens de tout bord,” Le Monde, April 20, 2019. https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/04/20/a-yalta-en-crimee-la-russie-reunit-ses-soutiens-de-tout-bord_5452904_3210.html
 Aaron Korewa, “Putin’s Goal is a New Yalta,” Atlantic Council, December 8, 2015. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/putin-s-goal-is-a-new-yalta/Putinutin hoped for the West’s support for his war on Islamic terrorism in Syria. See also Frida Ghitis, “Putin wants Yalta 2.0 and Trump may give it to him,” CNN, January 27, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/25/opinions/putin-wants-yalta-2-0-and-trump-may-give-it-to-him-ghitis/index.html
 Rémy Dodet, “La présence d’un élu dans un forum pro-Poutine embarrasse La France insoumise,” L’Obs, May 4, 2019. https://www.nouvelobs.com/politique/20190504.OBS12462/la-presence-d-un-elu-insoumis-dans-un-forum-pro-poutine-embarasse-la-france-insoumise.html
 Mathieu Périsse, “La France insoumise recadre un élu lyonnais après son voyage en Crimée,” Mediacités, May 2, 2019. https://www.mediacites.fr/enquete/lyon/2019/05/02/la-france-insoumise-recadre-un-elu-lyonnais-apres-son-voyage-en-crimee/
 Rémy Dodet, “La présence d’un élu dans un forum pro-Poutine embarrasse La France insoumise,” L’Obs, May 4, 2019. https://www.nouvelobs.com/politique/20190504.OBS12462/la-presence-d-un-elu-insoumis-dans-un-forum-pro-poutine-embarasse-la-france-insoumise.html; Marc Bennetts, “Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko killed in explosion in Ukraine,” The Guardian, August 31, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/31/rebel-leader-alexander-zakharchenko-killed-in-explosion-in-ukraine; Le meurtre de Zakharchenko entraîne le conflit ukrainien ‘vers l’une des pires voies possibles,’” RT France, August 31, 2018. https://francais.rt.com/international/53656-meurtre-zakharchenko-entraine-conflit-ukrainien-pire-voire